I’m Not a Cool, Best-Selling Author or on TikTok, But I Still Keep on Writing
For many years I made the claim that my career as a marketing executive supported this little habit I had on the side. I made writing seem illicit, as if it was heroin and here I was taking jobs, making money, all in an effort to feed my habit. A habit whose thirst was never quenched, whose hunger was never satiated. It occurs to me now that it should’ve been the other way around—I’ve always been an artist and I’ve been lucky enough to have a head for business to get the jobs that supplemented my art.
It’s a nuanced understanding, but a powerful one. You can either say you’re an artist and all the work you do is just a means to fuel the work. Or, you’re someone with a vocation who supports their habit on the side. It’s the way in which we elevate or dismiss the art that is relevant.
Last week, I returned to interviews I listened to years ago. Specifically, one of poets Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath in 1961. I’ve written a lot about Plath lately, a writer I haven’t read in years, but a writer that intrigues me because the lines between art and life were porous, that, in fact, the life informed the art and vice versa. No great poems could have existed without the specter of death hovering. I admire her because she was a difficult woman, a bitch, a shrew, but more like she was assertive, bold, ferocious, demanding of the world the things men were so freely afforded.
I listened to the interview again because it reminded me of a gilded age, a forgone one, where one could simply exist as an artist. One could sell or read poetry and actually make a living, albeit a meager one. A living that is a reality for a rarefied few. Unless you come from money or are lucky enough to string along a series of jobs in academia or even rare so, make a living off the books you publish—it’s rare that one is simply an artist.
In the spring of 2000, I sat in Kathy’s, the managing director’s office, ready to resign. I was a twenty-four-year-old associate at Morgan Stanley, unthinkable at the time because, back then, you had to hock your spleen, sleep with your boss, and auction your soul to Beezelbub to get a promotion.